Some students prefer studying on their own, others join study groups. A study group can be beneficial if it is set up and run effectively, but it can quickly turn into a time-waster if the participants gather to socialize, share confusion and commiserate. How do you make your study group more effective? Here are a few suggestions:
- Choose your study-buddies wisely. A person who is great to share a beer with may not be the best choice when it comes to studying together. You want people who are responsible enough to prepare for the meetings, who contribute with ideas and tips, who are self-directed and motivated learners, with a schedule compatible to yours. Also, avoid large study groups because they are hard to manage and you have less opportunity to contribute.
- At the end of each meeting, set an agenda for the next meeting and allocate specific times for every task. Make sure you have the ending time. Stick to your plan.
- Assign a person to each topic on your agenda to lead the discussion. Do it in advance of the meeting so that the person can think about the best way to address the topic and prepare questions. This is done for the sake of efficiency, and not for the purpose of sharing the workload: everybody must still prepare to discuss each topic on the agenda.
- Make it a goal whenever you speak to keep your message brief, crisp and to the point. This is good practice for real-life meetings. Brevity helps to crystallize your understanding.
- Identify your personal goals that can be advanced in a group setting. For example, you can practice your communication and listening skills. You can learn to think on your feet when somebody asks a question. You can see how good you are at motivating people. You can even work on your leadership skills. Pick a specific goal for each meeting and focus on it. Don’t be shy about asking for your peers’ feedback. “Am I rambling too much?” “Did I present your point of view correctly?”
- If your study session reveals points of disagreement, confusion or misunderstanding, prepare a list of questions that you can ask your professor during the office hours or have a volunteer to consult a treatise or other sources for a follow-up presentation at the next meeting. The point is to have a course of action to clarify the confusion.
- Role-play during your studying sessions. It may sound silly but it is a fun and effective way to step into somebody else’s shoes. You can act as a lawyer explaining something to a client. Talking through the material and putting it into the words that are easily understood by a lay person will reinforce your own comprehension. Whoever plays the “client” will make sure that you don’t speak legalese and ask clarifying questions. Or how about trying to read your professor’s mind and predict what questions can appear on the exam? Have each member come up with one possible question or hypo that all of you can do during a review session. Compare your answers, give constructive criticism. When the exams come around, keep scores to see who the best “mind reader” is. Here’s another interesting exercise to do as part of your group review sessions – the “Final Exam” procedure by Win Wenger of the Renaissance Project.
- Do practice questions and essays as part of your meeting. It is easier to take timed practice tests within a group. After the time is up, trade your answers, critique and offer tips to improve. Pay special attention to the organization of your essay answers.
- Right before the exams, the students are understandably more stressed out and may feel the need to talk about something else as a diversion. If that’s the case, schedule some time during the meeting for stress-relief activities. Share something positive and motivational with the group. Look at great photography or listen to a piece of music together. Laughter is an excellent way to reduce stress and uplift your spirit. Do an act of kindness or say something nice to the person next to you. It will make you and those around you feel better.
What are your experiences with the study groups? Do they work for you? If you participate in one right now, how can you make it better?